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Whittle, Sir Frank

jet engine aircraft air

(1907–96) British aeronautical engineer: invented the jet engine.

After entering the RAF as a boy apprentice, Whittle qualified as a pilot at Cranwell College and studied engineering at Cambridge. He served as a test pilot with the Royal Air Force, later working as a consultant for a number of companies. In 1977 he became research professor at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis. He joined the Order of Merit in 1986.

Whittle’s principal claim to fame was the invention of the turbojet aircraft engine, on which he took out his first patent in 1930 while still a student. In 1936 he formed his own company to develop the concept, and in 1941 a Gloster aircraft with his engine made its first test flight. Due to the war development was rapid, and the Gloster was in service with the RAF by 1944.

In Germany, Hans Joachim Pabst von Ohain (1911–98) completed his designs for a jet engine in 1933 and, better supported by his employers and by industry (notably the aircraft makers Heinkel) than was Whittle, von Ohain had jet-driven aircraft in service with the Luftwaffe in mid-1944, slightly ahead of Whittle. Jet engines made supersonic flight practicable, initially in fighters and then for civil air travel.

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